STORMING HILL 60, 1915
Just over a hundred years ago, in July 1915, thousands of people gathered in Thackley and Esholt for a gala day, with sports events, outdoor theatre, entertainers, and, by no means least, a re-enactment of a Battle which had taken place near Ypres in Belgium earlier in the same year.
Hill 60 was formed from the debris when a railway cutting had been constructed south of Ypres, and it provided a useful lookout point for the surrounding area, which had been repeatedly fought over between the various allied forces and the Germans. It had been regained by the allies in April, but was back in German hands by the time of the re-enactment. The battle was notorious for the claims made by both sides that poison gas had been employed, which was against the Hague Convention. The Germans recovered the ground early in May, and it remained in German hands until 1917.
The Gala day took place in the area around what is now the far end of Ainsbury Avenue where the Sewage Works had begun to be built. The Council had bought the Esholt Estate land about ten years earlier in order to construct the Sewage Works there. Ainsbury Avenue had been completed, but apparently not named, and was referred to as Strangford Hill; Strangford Farm was nearby on the opposite side of the Canal. The avenue must have looked an impressive sight when the thousand Volunteers and accompanying bands marched down after walking all the way from Peel Park.
I found this account of the proceedings in the Bradford Weekly Telegraph whilst researching quite a different aspect of World War I. I was astonished to read that at least 15,000 people came to Thackley that day, in the midst of a War that was already causing the deaths of so many young men, and that the re-enactment of a recent battle was the main attraction. But this was before the length and scale of the war was known, and before Bradford’s volunteers and conscripts fell in great numbers – a time when there was still hope and less despair about the future.
BRADFORD WEEKLY TELEGRAPH 16 JULY 1915
BRADFORD CITY VOLUNTEERS FIELD DAY AT ESHOLT, CARNIVAL AND SPORTS.
The members of the City Volunteer Force must have watched the sky anxiously on Saturday, for upon the weather depended whether the gala and garden party at the Esholt estate was to fulfil the anticipation of being the biggest and best function of its kind which has yet been projected.
When the morning opened cold and unpromising – the sky being dull and threatening – there naturally lurked a fear that the proceedings were to be marred, but hope was revived when the elements brightened and became quite pleasant. The day, indeed, if not beautifully fine, was such as to have a tempting effect on all who appreciate the prettiness of the Esholt estate, which was quite an attraction in itself, apart from the great and varied programme which had been arranged to take place there.
Thus it seemed likely that a vast crowd would attend – 20,000 was the figure which it was thought would be reached – of patrons, pleased to support the voluntary equipment fund of a force whose patriotic service may sooner be used by the country than some people imagine.
STORMING “HILL 60.”
Quite the piece de resistance of the day was expected to be provided by the Volunteer Force itself in a military spectacle in which the whole of the three battalions were to take part. In its conception it was to be a representation of that historic action standing to the glory of the British forces in France, the storming of Hill 60, and even in the likeness of the attack by well-trained forces it promised a picture of great impressiveness. The hill was supposed to be held by the enemy – represented by a detachment of the Force – and the main body, drawn up in the park, were to endeavour to capture the hill.
But the attractions generally were on a comprehensive and lavish scale, and sufficient to keep the spectators fully entertained right up to dusk. Not the least interesting was the rally of the Bradford Boy Scouts, and the sports in which they were engaged, which embraced an exhibition of scoutcraft, with athletic and swimming events. There were some novel and vastly humorous competitions for the members of the Volunteer Force, including a tug-of-war event, which had provoked the keenest rivalry amongst the respective companies.
ROUND OF ENTERTAINMENTS
For those not interested in such strenuous exhibitions a quieter form of entertainment was provided through many other agencies. The Bradford Pastoral Players gave two clever renderings of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, while “The Merry Dots”, the Athletes Battalion Concert Party, G. H. Hawley and H. Morehouse, (humorists, patterers, and paper manipulation), and Mons. Ducarel (with his Punch and Judy show) each kept large audiences in a good humour.
The Brigade marched to Esholt, after assembling at the Peel Park gates in Otley Road, and their entrance to the estate in splendid marching order which provoked expressions of the greatest admiration.
The number of men marching from Peel Park was about a thousand.
The Volunteers marched under the senior commandant Mr J. I. Hickson, by way of Bolton, Thackley and down the new avenue through the estate. As they came marching down Strangford Hill they contributed an imposing sight, which was watched by a crowd that now reached vast dimensions. The officers were welcomed by the Lord Mayor accompanied by the Lady Mayoress … etc etc…
CROWD OF PEOPLE
The weather continued to be fine, and by early afternoon it was pretty evident that a great crowd of people was going to assemble, for the special cars from Forster Square to Thackley were packed. The scene on the Esholt estate was one of bright animation, and the various events in different parts of the grounds had the effect of dispersing the people. Each person on entering the gates was given a neat tag, which acted as a kind of passport to any part of the grounds. Those not wearing them ran the risk of quickly being ejected, as there were a large number of volunteer police on duty looking out for any delinquents seeking to avoid payment. The City Police Band and the Idle and Thackley Prize Band were in attendance and rendered lively music.
One of the striking successes of the afternoon in the entertainment line was achieved by the Bradford Pastoral Players in scenes from “Twelfth Night”. They occupied a pretty position on the lawn behind the hall, which formed an almost perfect natural stage, and, despite the difficulties associated with open-air dramatic work, the actors did exceedingly well.
SHAM FIGHT OPERATIONS
How Hill Top was Captured.
The sham fight in which the City Volunteers engaged constituted the most interesting event. Whatever else they missed, the 15,000 people – which is an approximate number who arrived on the estate were determined not to miss the “fight”, and every point of vantage was occupied, some even venturing onto the hill and running the risk of being put “out of action”.
The intrusion of these people in such circumstances not only impeded the operations, but spoiled the spectacle for those who were watching from across the valley, it being difficult to discern who were soldiers and who spectators.
The hill to be attacked was the one on the Thackley side of the estate known as “hill top”, and it was held by an attachment under Company Commander Hayward, of the Second Battalion. The attackers numbered about a thousand and they were led by Adjutant Carr with the Headquarters staff comprising Commandant J. L.Hickson, M. Conway and T. Taylor, directed the assault from the Hollins Hill side.
Dusk was approaching when the first strategic move was noticed, a company who were to lead the frontal charge taking cover at the base of the hill, whilst those on the flanks were securing their positions. The companies in flank had secretly established themselves in Buck Wood and Dawson Wood respectively, but the “enemy” evidently a debouch from these quarters, as he had pushed down a strong line to meet it.
The defenders taking good cover met the flank attacks very skilfully and did good execution before retiring to the ridge of the hill, where the strongest position was maintained. Meanwhile there had been a brisk rifle fire proceeding, and the crackle and the smoke gave a touch of realism to the scene.
When the final charge was sounded men were seen to rush forward from all sides, and coming into the open in extended order and in excellent line the spectators were able to appreciate the smartness of the manœuvres. By short rushes they rapidly reached the ridge, and with strong supports stormed the top with irresistible dash.
Outnumbered and overwhelmed the defenders had no alternative but to surrender. The tactics of the defenders, however, were throughout very cleverly conceived, the disposition of the small force being such that their dislodgement was no easy process.
While the “battle” was proceeding the commanders were kept fully informed by means of flag signalling of the extent of the casualties, and how the engagement was progressing, and thus they were able to push forward reinforcements to where they were needed. One of the defenders’ signallers, it should be said, got into a too prominent position, with the result that the commanders of the assaulting force were able to read the orders of the defenders.
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